Yesterday, my day began with amusement after encountering Tim Arango’s completely one-sided NYT article on the arrest of Reza Zarrab (in Turkish, Rıza Sarraf) in Miami on suspicion of directing financial transactions intended to evade U.S. sanctions against Iran. That article is so one-sided that the author labels Zarrab as “Turkish” in the first line of the article when Zarrab is actually Iranian-born (few Turkish people have the name “Reza,” an overtly Persian name) and a dual citizen of Iran and Turkey. Arango never mentions Zarrab’s birthplace and says that he’s a dual citizen only in the article’s ninth paragraph.
Anyways, Arango’s overall theme is different. He highlights the “captured imaginations” of an undefined section of the Turkish populace which has been delighted by Zarrab’s arrest and showered the Zarrab indictment’s author, U.S. NY District Attorney Preet Bharara with adulation. The result is an article that illustrates perfectly how the international press, especially the NYT’s correspondents, make it nearly impossible for an international observer to understand Turkey’s domestic politics.
In fact, the entire issue around Zarrab, in terms of Turkish domestic politics, is the Turkish secular elites who hate the AKP and President Tayyip Erdoğan, and want to see the end of their political careers in essentially any manner possible. The Turkish people Arango refers to in the article, but never identifies, are exactly those Kemalist secular elites, plus a smattering of other segments of the domestic political opposition. The fact that the corruption cases launched in December 2013 were instigated by Fethullah Gülen’s adherents in the Turkish police and judiciary doesn’t matter to them. The fact that those cases were unquestionably an attempt to bring down the AKP government – i.e. a coup d’état – and replace it with politicians friendly to Gülen doesn’t matter to them. The fact that Gülen’s involvement with the matter casts a dark shadow over the legitimacy of those cases doesn’t matter to them. The only thing important to them is their blind, smoldering, class-based animosity towards the AKP and Tayyip Erdoğan.
So what kind of political views do these Turkish secular elites have? Here’s an anecdote. Later yesterday I went to swim at the pool I’ve been going to for more than a decade. The swimming facilities I patronize are owned by one of İstanbul’s oldest, most prestigious, and most expensive private schools. The school in question has long educated some of İstanbul’s Turkish elites, or at least the ones whose children didn’t have strong enough French to go to Galatasary High School or strong enough English to go to Robert College.
By the stairs leading down to the locker rooms is a small enclosed seating room, behind a glass wall, from which parents can observe their children while the kids are in the pool. I usually glance into the room on my way into the locker rooms in order to see what the situation in the pool looks like.
Yesterday, when I looked into the room I espied a newspaper lying front page-up on one of the small tables in the room. Out of morbid curiosity I decided to take a look at which paper some parent was reading while waiting for their child. Expecting Sözcü, I burst out laughing when I saw the title BirGün on the paper’s masthead. And at that moment this short article’s idea formed in my mind.
What is that paper’s relevance? You see, while the parents of children attending one of İstanbul’s highly-expensive private schools waited for their daughter or son to finish their weekend private swimming lessons, they were reading Turkey’s most prominent Marxist-Leninist newspaper!
Now, apologists for Turkey’s secular elites would not even doubt the accuracy of this because they don’t see any contradiction in that situation. They see this as right and just. The reason they don’t see any contradiction is that they do not recognize any disconnection between their own political beliefs and the reality of their own lives. For them it’s perfectly normal to live as elites, with all of the advantages that provides to them in Turkish society, and get their information about the world from a Marxist-Leninist newspaper. Others might try to claim that this was an exceptional situation, that I just happened to see that newspaper on that day. But the reality is that this is not an exceptional situation at all, and that this is the dominant situation among the Turkish elites.
This is made possible by the fact that the Turkish elites do not actually know what the implications of Marxism-Leninsim are, and the fact that a paper like BirGün provides a massive daily dose of anti-AKP and anti-Tayyip Erdoğan hatred, the vital saccharine that soothes their cognitive dissonance. In other words, their political opinions stem from hatred and obsessions rather than actual knowledge of political ideologies and reasoned analysis.
The same is true for the Reza Zarrab situation. The single reason that Preet Bharara gained so much attention from Turkish twitter users is that the Turkish Kemalist elites grasp at any straw they think will damage the AKP and President Erdoğan; the reality of the situation has zero importance.That is, the response was an entirely political reaction. Bharara’s indictment doesn’t even refer to Zarrab’s activities in Turkey.
If Tim Arango were truly concerned with explaining Turkish political events to his readers, he would have explained exactly which Turkish citizens were pleased by Zarrab’s arrest, and the background to their schadenfreude, instead of burying it with a few murky sentences at the very end of his article.